In a major victory for Republicans, challenger Thom Tillis upset Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, one of a handful of tight match-ups determining party control of that chamber during the 114th Congress.
In what was the most expensive contest in the country, Tillis clinched the race at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday evening as called by the Associated Press.
Going into Tuesday morning, the two camps were neck-and-neck in the latest polls. It was widely assumed that Republicans would capture the six seats they need to call the Senate their own, but Tillis’ victory tipped the scale for Republicans.
Tillis didn’t make education a core part of his platform, but he favors eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. Hagan, meanwhile, serves on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and has a long résumé of crafting education policy.
The Tar Heel contest was one of the few where education issues were front and center, especially on the issues of education funding and teacher pay.
For most of the race, Hagan slammed Tillis, the state House Speaker, for his role in what she characterized as a $500 million cut to education spending that led to larger class sizes and scarce classroom resources for teachers.
In reality, those cuts came over successive years in which state lawmakers, including Tillis, decided not to fund education to the extent budget experts said it needed to be funded in order to prevent any decrease in services.
Tillis, for his part, touted a 7 percent teacher pay hike included in the most recent budget he ushered through the state legislature. Under the new pay system, the state’s 37-step schedule for paying teachers will be condensed to just six steps, with pay boosts for teachers coming every five years, rather than annually.
But the amounts will vary depending on how much a teacher was previously earning. Actual raises would range from less than 1 percent, for a 30-year veteran, to more than 18 percent for teachers entering their fifth and sixth years in the classroom.
Teachers’ salaries in North Carolina, which have been essentially frozen since 2008, have fallen to 46th in the nation as of 2012-13, according to National Education Association tables, prompting worries about attrition.
The race also garnered national attention for being the most expensive in the election cycle, to the tune of more than $80 million. And a significant amount of that money came in the form of spending against Tillis by the two national teachers’ unions’ political action committees, or PACs.
The National Education Association’s super-PAC, in its most recent Federal Election Commission filings alone—representing spending through the end of September—reported directing $250,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools.
The super-PAC also spent big on media and advertising this past quarter. In particular, it handed over $3.6 million to Waterfront Strategies, a media-buying firm that serves primarily Democratic-aligned super-PACs and nonprofits, according to the Center for Public Integrity, an independent, Washington-based nonprofit that tracks money in politics. That money was used, in part, for TV ads opposing Tillis.
And the political-spending arms of the American Federation of Teachers, for their part, had directed more than $1 million through Sept. 30 to the Senate Majority PAC, whose main goal is to protect the Democrats’ hold on the Senate.
Don’t forget to join us Nov. 12 for After the Storm: What the 2014 Election Results Mean for K-12 Policy, a live Education Week event at Gallup headquarters in Washington.